<body> Public Ad Campaign: Reader Post Comment Response or Why Advertising And Public Space Are Inherently At Odds With One Another
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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reader Post Comment Response or Why Advertising And Public Space Are Inherently At Odds With One Another

A PublicAdCampaign reader named Dennis made a wonderful comment regarding the Philip Lumbang cuddly bear disaster in LA and I wanted to respond. He writes...
"The bloggers and commenters shaking their heads over this story need to look beyond the obvious. This kind of situation was created by our friends in the outdoor advertising industry who have used every legal tactic to destroy the ability of cities to control billboards, supergraphic signs, and other conveyances of outdoor advertising. In a nutshell, they have argued in court that the city is guilty of unconstitutional discrimination if it treats a fine-art mural differently than a supergraphic sign. In other words, if it permits a mural on a wall, it can't prohibit a sign for Nike or McDonald's across the street. There is ongoing litigation about this, but as of now the city jeopardizes its sign regulations if it issues permits for murals, or fails to act on complaints about unpermitted murals.
Dennis makes an incredibly important point here which speaks to the fact that outdoor advertising and a healthy public space are two incompatible ideas. Advertising by its very nature must control public space, dominate it, in order to have the most influence over public thought in order to push commercial consumption. This control is not only seen in outdoor advertising language which often describes its presence as dominating, but also in its legal tactics which attempt to strip the city of its ability to protect itself from advertising's ravaging behavior. (as evidenced by Dennis' comment)

What is sacrificed in the wake of advertising's constant land grab and volatile tactics, is the public's ability to use its own judgment on how to curate our shared environments. If the permit issue was not at hand in this current LA mural atrocity, the issue of whether or not to let this mural stay up would be decided by a neighborhood board. The single resident that is taking issue with the mural, calling it "ghetto," would be out voted by the many residents who love the mural and it would be allowed to stay. The public ultimately should be responsible for the curation of our shared spaces and the fact that the city must enforce rulings which do not agree with public sentiment is the horrendous result of how advertising alters and controls our public spaces for the worst.

For this reason, outdoor advertising must not be allowed in public space. A good example of this is a story I come back to routinely. One of the problematic things that outdoor advertising does to our environment is that it assigns a monetary value to public walls, or rather private walls that face the public and therefore have a direct affect on public consciousness. Without a monetary value, public walls can be used for a myriad of things, the value of which is determined by the benefit that use brings to the property owner and the community as a whole.

Take for example a typical corner deli in New York City with an entrance on one side and a blank wall on the other. Now imagine this deli is in close proximity to a public school. This school might ask the deli owner or landlord to use the blank wall for a mural made by the students of one of the classes. Without monetary value, the landlord would be inclined to say yes, knowing that the mural will not only benefit the students, giving them a sense of self worth and physical investment in the neighborhood, but also attract the approval of the community which will then patronize the store.

A moral obstacle arises once this public wall has monetary value. The landlord or deli owner must now decide between receiving a small paycheck for the rental of this public wall, versus the benefits it might have for the community at large. I don't believe we can expect people to disregard the inherent value ascribed by outdoor advertising firms to public space. This would be expecting a self sacrifice for the greater good that simply does not agree with our ego centric capitalist societal values. The answer then is to simply eliminate the motivation to strip our communities of a valuable resource, public space, by preventing outdoor advertising from prescribing monetary value to our shared environment.

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Blogger Garrett said...

Thas wassup. The reclamation of community value through a removal of the visual-detritus wantonly splattered on our shared spaces might be the first steps towards creating neighborhoods/towns/cities worth caring about. How would you like to walk down a street and be reminded visually of the deep implicit value of your neighborhood, not the relative superficial value of some dodgey product? Fuck your ads, bro.


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